I was alone outside the shipyard today. I brought my new purple sign: Health care, education & environment: No warships. “Happy Wednesdays against Warships”, I said to a shipyard worker who walked by me. I see him almost every week. He chuckled.
A car drove by, slowed down and the driver, a young guy, yelled and swore at me. Over the past four months, I have noticed that all of the people who swear at me have been men. Only one woman, a civilian employee who works at the naval dockyard, has told me politely that she disagrees with me.
At 12:45 pm, a group of naval personnel crossed Barrington Street toward me. At the same time, a fancy car with a little flag in the hood was pulling out of the dockyard, the navy personnel stopped and saluted the car going by. I could see that inside the car in the back seat there was a man wearing a well-decorated uniform and hat. He was obviously a high ranking naval officer. I have seen this scenario before while I protest – these fancy cars with little flags shuttling around senior male officers. I have noticed that sometimes the drivers are women, but women are never the ones sitting in the back seat being chauffeured around. I really don’t like the male domination, the elitism and the hierarchy that I see in the military.
“Hello and Happy Wednesdays against Warships”, I said to the three naval personnel walking by me. “I’m here every Wednesday at noon. Check out my web site demilitarize.ca”
One of the naval officers, stopped and smiled, “You’re against warships? You want to get rid of the military?” he asked. He was in his 50s and friendly.
“Yes,” I replied. “I’m opposed to the federal government spending $25 billion on warships. They are not a priority. The priorities of Canadians are health care, education and the environment” and flashed him my new sign.
“We need warships,” he said.
“No, we don’t. We need affordable housing, investments in our schools and hospitals, and action on climate change. We have homelessness and hungry people in this country. We need to help them first,” I said. I tried to tell him about the children in my sons’ elementary class that come hungry to school and the poverty in my community.
“We need the military to protect our land. If we didn’t have a military they would come and get our land. They all want our land and our resources.” he said.
“Who?” I asked.
“The Russians,” he answered.
“The Russians! That is what they are telling you in there,” I said. “That’s preposterous.”
He insisted, “They are going around and putting flags in the Arctic. They want our land. They want to take over.”
“We have international law and diplomacy. That’s what we need to solve any conflict including with the Russians. In fact we are using the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea negotiation process right now with the Russians in our dispute in the Arctic Ocean,” I explained.
He shook his head and said, “Canada needs a military. It protects you. It gives you security.”
“No, your guns, warships and fighter jets don’t protect me. It’s quite the opposite. The Canadian military is fomenting conflict and violence around the world and not providing peace and stability.” I argued.
“We are doing peacekeeping,” he tried to say before I interjected and vehemently disagreed. “The Canadian military is not doing peacekeeping. You know that and I know that.”
We talked about the Canadian military’s role in Haiti, Libya and Afghanistan. He said that the Canadian military was protecting women in Afghanistan against the terrible Taliban. I said that the Canadian military did not go to Afghanistan to protect women and told him about Malalai Joya, the democratically elected woman from the Farah province to the Afghan Loya Jirga but was kicked out for her condemnation of the government corruption under President Karzai and the foreign occupation by the US/NATO. Joya has faced death threats but the Canadian government and the Canadian military did not stand up for her and provide her any protection. I asked him to tell me what he did for the Afghan women but he didn’t answer me.
“I’m totally against armed force, which is fundamental to the military.” I added. “The Canadian military has killed people in Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq.”
At first, he said that Canada didn’t fight in Iraq. I reminded him that his former Chief of Defence Staff Walter Natynczyk commanded troops in Iraq and an estimated million Iraqis have been killed since 2003 in the U.S. war and occupation. We argued about how many Iraqis died and if Canada was complicit. He conceded the Canadian military did fight in Iraq and it shouldn’t have. “It was wrong,“ he said.
“We don’t solve conflict in our homes, schools and communities with weapons and violence; we shouldn’t use weapons and violence against our global family,” I said.
“We are going to get there,” he said.
“Yes, I’m trying to speed it up,” I said. I felt very heartened that he could envision this path of peace, non-violence and no military with me – he understood.
We shook hands. I enjoyed our vigorous debate.
“Well, I better get back to work,” he said and walked away.
I had 9 honks and waves and 5 fingers and scowls.
March 26, 2013 – Premier’s Office & Protest at the Legislature
Today the provincial legislature opened for a new session. I decided that I would go down to protest and let the MLAs know about my opposition to the (war)ship contract and the provincial government handout to Irving Shipbuilding Ltd.
Last spring, Premier Dexter and the NDP government gave Irving a $304 million loan of which $260 million is forgivable to upgrade their shipyard. It is the largest government handout to a private company in our province’s history. Irving is one of the wealthiest family businesses in the country. As a private business, the public has no access to their financial statements and annual reports. The Government of British Columbia did not give Seaspan Ltd. any provincial money to upgrade their shipyard after they won the $8 billion joint supply ship package. This NDP government had a choice: invest in Nova Scotians or invest in Irving.
At 10:00 a.m., I went to One Government Place to give Premier Dexter a package with my open letter and a copy of William Hartung’s book Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex. The security guard in the building would not let me take the elevator up to the Premier’s office, so I asked if someone from his office would come down to meet with me. A woman named Lana came to accept my package and listened to me explain my opposition to the Premier’s support of the warships and my concern about lobbying and the violations of the Lobbyist Registration Act. She politely explained that the Premier was not in his office but that she would give him my package. After she left, the security guard asked if he could have a copy of my letter to the Premier and I gave one to him. I also encouraged him to check out my web site demilitarize.ca and he said he would.
Outside the legislature, I placed a few of my signs near the steps and then started walking around the building holding up my new sign “Health care, education & environment: No warships”. Colleen joined me. I was happy to see many women from the Nova Scotia Child Care Association having their own protest with their signs “Invest in Early Learning & Child Care”. I knew a few of the women and expressed my solidarity. In fact, I read to them a passage from my letter to Dexter where I wrote “Little progress has been made toward poverty reduction, affordable housing, and early learning & childcare, yet you are further subsidizing Irving Shipbuilding after it has won a $25 billion contract from the federal government.” I reminded the child care workers that the NDP knows better – it had a choice: to give a handout to Irving or to invest in a quality, universal early learning & child care program in the province, such a program would have had a much greater impact on our society and the economy than the giveaway to Irving.
As the Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) walked by, I tried to tell each one that I was opposed to the (war)shipbuilding contract and the loan to Irving. I noticed a few of the NDP MLAs stopping to talk to the representatives of the Nova Scotia Child Care Association but I felt that the MLAs feigned concern. If the NDP MLAs really cared about early learning & child care they would have done something when they formed the government four years ago. Just before 11:00 a.m., Premier Dexter walked across the street to the legislature. I was waiting there with some of the other protesters. Dexter walked right by my signs “No warships: Green jobs” and as he walked into the building through the back door, I shouted at him “a militarized economy is a failed economy.”
Finally, as I watched all the women NDP MLAs enter Province House like Marilyn More, Becky Kent, Lenore Zann, Vicky Conrad, Denise Peterson-Rafuse, and Michele Raymond, I especially felt disappointed. I really feel like they have let down the women, children, and natural environment in this province. Not one of these women MLAs stood up to say why are we supporting warships and not greening the economy, why are we giving a handout to Irving and not investing early learning & child care? The NS NDP has been a huge disappointment, because they have utterly abandoned their social democratic principles.
The NS Liberal Party and the NS Progressive Conservatives Party are absolutely no better and even worse. These parties also supported the (war)ship contract. On April 8, 2011 in the Nova Scotia House of Assembly, there was unanimous support by every MLA for the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy. In the past, when the NS Liberals and the NS Progressive Conservatives were in government they never adequately invested in early learning & child care, education or the environment. It is a sad commentary on the state of our democracy that not one politician at the provincial or federal level has expressed any opposition to the warships, the largest procurement in our country’s history, not one.